Above and beyond the 3Cs

Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull with India PM Narendra Modi

Turnbull’s visit to India has helped Australia to progress from cricket, curry ​and the Commonwealth

Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to India this month has helped Australia advance the Australia India relationship with deeper economic ties and a strategic partnership in defence, energy and education.

We have come a long way after decades being stalled in the “3 Cs” of cricket, curry and the Commonweath.

Australia and India’s $20 billion two-way trade is “a fraction of what we should aspire to, given the many points of intersection between our economies”, according to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The aim of Turnbull’s visit to India this month was to cement India as a priority economic partner. He was accompanied by a delegation that included the vice-chancellors of almost half of Australia’s universities. Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education, who led the Education sector delegation launched the Australia India Knowledge Partnership in New Delhi.

While the Modi Government’s flagship policies, from “Make in India” to the “Smart Cities” initiative, rely on equipping aspirational young Indians with the skills to participate in the economy, Brexit and Trump’s policies are bringing sharper focus on Australian education institutions.

India is currently undergoing a profound transformation, with villages being transformed through the advent of the Digital economy and near ubiquitous use of smart devices.

More than 54 per cent of its total population are below 25 years of age, and only a small proportion of the workforce has formal skills. The Indian Government expects that 400 million additional people will need to be trained in the vocational sector alone by 2022.

Australia is a natural partner for India as it seeks to meet its challenges across the education sector, whether this is in schools, higher or vocational education, or research.

There are currently 61,000 Indian students in Australia and much work lies ahead to bridge the skills gap with innovative curriculum delivery methods that will see more Australian training delivered in India, through a range of partnerships, licensing arrangements and collaborations on the ground.

As India plans to expand its mining sector Australia can offer its world-class technical expertise in METS, mine safety and mine management to help India achieve its target.

For the Australian government, India is among the “top five priority relationships” and Turnbull’s visit focused on the political relationship, trade, strategic ties, international security issues, science and innovation and energy.

India’s appetite for energy, its ambition to upskill half a billion people, its rapidly growing middle class and its shift to a manufacturing sector and a larger services sector all present significant opportunities for Australian and Indian companies to work together.

Perhaps like no other time in history, India and Australia now share strategic interests in Asia. As maritime nations for whom regional stability is of paramount importance, an expansive agenda including security in the Indian Ocean, trans-national crime, terrorism, more military-to-military exchanges and exercises are expected in our growing defence and security cooperation.

The visit also commemorated the 10th anniversary of the $84 million Australia India Strategic Research Fund which is Australia’s largest fund dedicated to bi-lateral science collaboration. To date, over 250 collaborative research projects, workshops and other activities have been successfully completed by some of India and Australia’s best researchers, involving around 100 top universities and research institutes in both countries.

Negotiations towards a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which stalled last year, have been re-energised with both Prime Ministers agreeing to place urgency on identifying and addressing the issues.

Australia wants better access to Indian markets for its food and agricultural products and has concerns about high Indian tariffs for products such as wine.

A major sticking point for the Indians is labour mobility. India also has concerns about sanitary and phytosanitary conditions for its fruits and vegetables.

The agreement reached on uranium is a sweetener of some significance and opens doors for a broader and more trusted engagement in many other areas.

Australia’s Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Act became effective in December last year. Both sides are now engaged in commercial negotiations, around price, quantity and purity, for the sale of uranium to India.

As close neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region, with a shared history and values, Turnbull has taken an important step towards cementing the future of the Australia India relationship.

As I listened to his speech at the banquet in New Delhi, while on the Education Sector delegation, the words “There has never been a better time to make this relationship stronger” was simply music to my ears.

The writer is chair of the Multicultural Ministerial Business Advisory Council and senior adviser to KPMG’s India Business Practice. Rohini was part of Turnbull’s delegation to India this month


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